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March 2017

The Shrine Circus

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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will shut down “The Greatest Show on Earth” this May, after 146 years. In light of this upcoming closure, we wanted to highlight the history of another famous touring circus still active today, the Shrine Circus. On February 26, 1906, the Moslem Shrine Temple premiered the Mystic Shriners’ Yankee Circus in Egypt at the Light Guard Armory in Detroit, Michigan. The Shrine Circus, associated with Shriners International, also known as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, currently travels to over 120 cities in the United States. Different local Shrine Temples sponsor and host the circus in their respective communities. No two Shrine Circuses are the same and a circus can feature anywhere from one to forty performances.

This 1956 photograph shows performers from the Arabia Temple Shrine Circus in Houston, Texas. The circus features a variety of clown performances, acrobats, and trained performing animals, including elephants and tigers. Although we have not yet identified the performers pictured in the photograph, there is a good  chance that some members of the Arabia Clown Jewels, an officially recognized unit of "good-will ambassadors" within the Arabia Temple, participated in the circus. The art of clowning is a significant part of Shrine fraternal history and is intertwined with the Shrine parade and circus traditions. The Shrine Circus, sometimes called "The Circus with a Heart" is often a fundraiser, not only for the Shriner organization, but also for the hospitals and charitable organizations the Shrine supports. To learn more about the Shrine visit our previous blog posts here. To see this photograph and others related to the Shrine on a map visit us on HistoryPin.

Do you have memories of a Shrine Circus you attended? Were you or a family member involved in the Shrine Circus? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Caption:

Masonic Arabia Temple Shrine Circus, 1956. Ace Photographers, Houston, Texas. Museum Purchase through the generosity of Helen G. Deffenbaugh in memory of George S. Deffenbaugh, 2010.024.1.

References: 

John H. McConnell, Shrine Circus: A History of the Mystic Shriners' Yankee Circus in Egypt (Detroit, Michigan: Astley & Ricketts, 1998) 

 

 

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Joseph Green's 1739 Anti-Masonic Broadside

A1980_001_1DS_webThe first public procession of Freemasons in the city of Boston took place on June 24, 1737, the Masonic feast day of Saint John the Baptist. Freemasonry in the American colonies was still young. Saint John's Lodge, Boston's first Masonic lodge, was founded just four years earlier. In 1739, a third annual procession commenced, with the members of Saint John's Lodge, led by men playing instruments, paraded through the streets of Boston wearing their aprons. Beginning at the house of Brother John Waghorn, they paraded to Province House, the home of Governor Jonathan Belcher (1681/2-1757), also a Mason, who joined the procession. The parade reached its final destination at the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street, whose proprietor, Luke Vardy (d. 1753), was a member of the lodge and let Saint John's Lodge use his tavern for their meetings.

Joseph Green (1706-1780) was, as David S. Shields has written "the foremost wit of Boston," and Green wrote a number of satires about Freemasonry from the 1730s through the 1750s. The broadside shown here, printed in 1739, is entitled "A True and Exact Account of the Celebration of the Festival of Saint John the Babtist [sic], by the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons..." It contains Green's satirical take on the event. 

The library's copy of this broadside is the only known copy in the world. We have digitized it and made it available via the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. According to Kent Walgren's 2003 bibliography, Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States: 1734-1850, Green's 1739 broadside is only the third publication in North America related to Freemasonry. It followed Benjamin Franklin's Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734) and An Astronomical Diary, or, an Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1738..., printed by Nathaniel Ames in 1737, which includes a poem with Masonic content.

If you would like to read more about Joseph Green and his satires about Freemasonry in colonial Massachusetts, we recommend David S. Shields' essay, "Clio Mocks the Masons: Joseph Green's Anti-Masonic Satires" in Deism, Masonry, and the Enlightenment: Essays Honoring Alfred Owen Aldridge, ed. J.A. Leo Lemay (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987), 109-126.

And be sure to check out a number of other interesting broadsides that we've digitized and made available at the Library & Archives Digital Collections website.


New to the Collection: D. Eames' Mark Medal

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Mark Medal, 1811. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 2016.009.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

In 1811 a Freemason named D. Eames commissioned an engraver or silversmith to create a silver mark medal.  This medal (at left) is a recent addition to the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library

On one side Eames had the craftsman depict different Masonic symbols; on the other he requested the letters of the mnemonic associated with the mark degree and his own personal symbol be engraved.  Many mark medals produced between 1790 and 1830 feature, not only the owner’s name and personal emblem, but also the name of his mark lodge or chapter and its location.  Without this information or a history of ownership associated with the medal, it is difficult to learn more about D. Eames or where his medal was made.  Mark medals in this form—the shape of a shield topped with an open Bible and a square and compasses—often come from New York.  We’ve recently posted about shield-shaped medals examples from Middleburgh and Elmira, New York.  Though the majority of shield-shaped mark medals in the Museum’s collection are from New York, Mark Master Masons from other areas commissioned medals in this shape.  Our collection includes examples from Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. 

For his own personal symbol (see below, at right) Eames selected two agricultural tools, a scythe and a sickle.  Farmers used both tools for harvesting crops—long-handled scythes for cutting fields of crops like hay or grain; short-handled sickles for working in small areas.  In terms of Masonic symbols, Eames’ medal features several.  They include a square and compasses with an open Bible symbolizing the Great Lights of the Lodge, along with a sun, moon, an ark and an altar.  As well, the engraver delineated seven stars, the number required for a perfect lodge; an arch with a keystone, a symbol of Royal Arch Masonry; a beehive, standing for industry; the letter G, symbolizing God or geometry; and a floor comprised of light and dark tiles, representing the good and evil in life.  In incising the letters and symbols onto the medal, the engraver used different tools and techniques to mark its smooth surface.  With a graver, or engraving tool, with a point shaped like a letter “v,” the craftsman cut lines into the silver.  The force he used helped determine the depth and width of the line. To suggest the slightly uneven lines of the Bible’s printed text, the engraver may have wielded a rolling tool, or roulette, to form a line made out of little dots cut into the metal.  On the side of the medal that bears the mark degree mnemonic, the craftsman rocked a graver with a flat or slightly rounded point back and forth to make the wavy circle that surrounds Eames’ mark.  He used a similar graver with a flat point to cut the decorative border on the side of the medal that bears Eames’ name.  Drawing on his experience, the craftsman who made this medal created a distinct badge that suited D. Eames’ needs and wishes.

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Mark Medal, 1811. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 2016.009.2. Photograph by David Bohl.

   

References:

Barbara Franco, Masonic Symbols in American Decorative Arts (Lexington, Massachusetts:  Scottish Rite Masonic Museum of Our National Heritage, 1976) 47-52.